Malpaís, North Puntarenas

A small coastal town, Malpaís lies at the southeastern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula in the northern part of the Puntarenas province.

With rocky coves, seductive swells and surfing opportunities day and night, this beachfront village offers a haven for surfers.

It spans roughly 6 kilometers of coastline, from Playa Carmen south to the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve.

Most people refer to the entire area of Playa Carmen and Santa Teresa as Malpaís, so keep that in mind when searching for top-notch surf and bird watching.

Best Hotels in Malpaís

The Meaning of Malpaís

Malpaís is calmer and less developed than its Santa Teresa counterpart. Many Spanish speakers wonder why it received its name, which translates to "bad country." Rest assured - Malpaís is anything but.

It owes its name to the summer season, during which the rivers and streams that flow into the region would dry up, making it a bad land for early inhabitants to live in.

In the past several years, Malpaís has preserved its serene atmosphere, even while nearby villages have become more commercialized.

If you're keen on avoiding big crowds, this is the perfect place to get away.

Surf's Up

Packing consistent waves and a long beach break, the Malpaís region as a whole is a surfer's paradise.

The coast has rocky beaches with sandy stretches decorated in sea shells. It even has some unique volcanic formations along the shore, creating delightful scenery.

Located a few kilometers north, Santa Teresa shines as a surfing hotspot. Surf shops, hotels and bars inhabit its beachfronts and streets. Shredders at all levels, from beginner to expert, can find waves suitable to their needs.


Besides surfing, Malpaís is awash with water sports.

Visitors enjoy fishing, diving, kite surfing and snorkeling. Explore the world under the waves near the southern portion of Malpaís, where you'll spot plenty of fish. You might even catch a glimpse of some sea turtles. If you prefer land-based activities, be sure to check out horseback riding, quad biking, hiking trails and canopy tours, where you can find hundreds of different species of trees. A major pastime here is just relaxing or sunbathing on the beach.

Bird watchers also flock to Malpaís, since its home to a variety of coastal and migratory birds, including scarlet macaws, kingfishers and falcons. Don't miss a day trip to Cabo Blanco, which was Costa Rica's first protected area. This park consists of 1,270 hectares rife with 150 species of birds, including brown pelicans, laughing gulls and ospreys.


The nightlife offers a number of bars and parties, many of which sit right on the beach. At the same time, there are quiet locales along the beach's secluded coves, reefs and tide pools that make for a romantic evening.

Great weather all year-round makes Malpaís among Costa Rica's unspoken gems for vacation destinations. Usually uncrowded, the area mixes natural beauty with plenty of luxury and affordable accommodations, bars and restaurants dotting the coast.

Getting There

When making travel plans to Malpaís, it's helpful to know that there are two ways to arrive. The first is to catch a ferry from the city of Puntarenas to Paquera, where you can drive or catch a waiting bus from there. The second option is to take a domestic flight from San Jose Intl Airport or the neighboring Pavas Intl Airport to Tambor Domestic Airport, then take a waiting taxi to Malpaís.

Around Beautiful Costa Rica Tour
10 Days / 9 Nights
Starting at $1,071 per person
Costa Rica Cloud Forest & Arenal Volcano Tour
6 Days / 5 Nights
Starting at $878 per person

Where to Stay near Malpaís

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Olas Verdes Hotel
Starting at $165 / night
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Lucero Surf Retreats
Starting at $140 / night
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Hotel CasaColores
Starting at $80 / night
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Selina Santa Teresa North
Starting at $48 / night
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Fuego Lodge
Starting at $115 / night
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Casitas Sollevante
Starting at $62 / night
Featured Vacation Rental
Selva Resort Boutique Luxury Villas
Starting at $341 / night
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Hotel Leyenda
Starting at $110 / night

Things to Do near Malpaís

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Del Mar Surf Camp - Nosara
Starting at $65 / person
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Adventure Flights Costa Rica
Starting at $150 / tour
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Vista Los Sueños Rainforest Tours
Starting at $65 / tour
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El Santuario Canopy Adventure Tour
Starting at $75 / tour
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Efrain's Nature Tours
Starting at $55 / tour
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El Trapiche Tour
Starting at $33 / tour